Behind the Curve – Call of Juarez Reviewed

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By Doobiwan

Not everyone can keep up with all the new releases, and with the catalogue of “old next gen” titles growing week by week, every so often a good deal pops up on an older title, something goes platinum, or becomes generally available in quantity for trade. This is often the best time to dig up some long forgotten gem, or to discover a missed classic. You won’t find a numerical rating here, I consider them unfair, especially with discounted games. What used to be a waste of money can be a bucket of fun when the price is right.

Recently fortune saw fit to cross my path with “Call of Juarez”, now available in the bins for under R300. The concept of a Western shooter holds a lot of promise so we faced off old school. Let’s see how them there dust settled Pilgrim . . .

Okay, I won’t try that again . . .

The plot of Call of Juarez is promising, You play as either young scoundrel Billy or Reverend Ray, the former being the step son of the brother of the later. Billy has a bit of a bad reputation and returns home after years unsuccessfully looking for fame and fortune to find his parents murdered. Caught at the scene of the crime he flees with Reverend Ray in hot pursuit. This splits the game into two reasonably distinct components: The chapters you play as Billy see you sneaking and hiding with a lot of environmental (ie platforming) puzzles. Billy can equip a whip for some dubious Indiana Jones type manoeuvres, and a bow for silent assassination work, which is one of the highlights of the games fight mechanics. Ray’s bits by comparison are more typical shooter missions, but with a few western twists like quickdraw mode, a bullet time like effect that helps you take out large groups enemies in slow motion, one on one duals and the option to evangelise while you’re gunning people down, which acts as a temporary stun. Yeah, I’d also get pretty confused if someone was trying to kill me and convert me at the same time . . .

This all sounds pretty neat but unfortunately things just don’t execute as hoped. Call of Juarez was initially written for PC and the game wears that mark with all the pride of a gleaming sheriffs badge.  First up, on screen text and details are small. Not Dead-Rising-unreadable-small but a bit of a strain in old school 480p. Then there’s the graphics. Call of Juarez was touted as one of the first Direct X 10 games on PC. I never saw it on PC, but the 360 version looks downright ugly, like 2005 kind of ugly. Even before the likes of Assassins Creed Call of Duty 4 Juarez would have been below par, but now as we kick off 2008, it’s just unacceptably bad. Setting wise, despite the game being set in the wide open spaces of the Wild West the game is annoyingly narrow and linear, you might as well be running down corridors. Gameplay wise I’m sad to say there are no saving graces either and a lot of close but no cigars. The game mechanics are a bit confused. On one side things like quickdraw add an interesting twist, but it refills to quickly and makes the game too easy, but at the same time slow and laborious. On the other hand some situations are just downright frustrating, only being beaten by bloody minded repetition and memorization. Throw in a bunch of unnecessary stacking crate puzzles, and play becomes disjointed and frustrating. Horse riding is a nice touch but again, just not enough to tie the whole thing together.

Playing online is also a South African no no  I’m afraid. Short of  organising a group of die hard friends for a game, your aren’t going to find one. As for International matches, the lag is unfortunately just too high to make the experience enjoyable.

Which brings us to million dollar question : What’s it worth?

I must admit, I like the idea of a western shooter. The genre has the potential to challenge players with some fantastic concepts like a huge open lawless world, limited weapons and some classic hollywoodesque set pieces. That is unfortunately where Call of Juarez falls flat. At the end of the day it just feels like a generic 3 year old FPS with Stetsons and bad accents. I say give it a miss, there are far better budget shooters out there.

[Thanks to Doobiwan from Gamerza for this behind the curve review…]

Last Updated: December 28, 2007

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